Social Exclusion and Reducing the Issue of Prejudice


Prejudice is a pre-conceived and stereotype attitude of social rejection towards certain groups of people in the society. Prejudice is a serious issue when relating to health matters. It makes people to discriminate others basing on their health condition. Human beings tend to associate some physical anomalies with a contagious disease; the natural response is always discrimination and disease avoidance. Hence, this has adverse effects to the affected victim. It causes a victim to feel stigmatized, prejudiced and inferior in society. The role played by public health is vital. Through measures such as immunization among others, they are viewed to alleviate prejudice and guarantee a new beginning to the prejudiced.


Positive social relationships are a fundamental part of life. They are necessary for the psychological and physiological health of humans. Despite human efforts to live harmoniously and be socially accepted, social rejection is an all-encompassing feature of social life. The society stigmatizes or socially rejects certain individuals based on a health characteristic they possess. According to Kurzban & Lear (2001) social groups susceptible to social exclusion include; the mentally ill, obese people, epileptics, HIV/AIDS patients, cancer patients and members of some racial and religious groups. This essay discusses how prejudice (social exclusion) evolved to protect us from disease by socially rejecting people who are carriers of contagious infections. The essay also illustrates the role played by public health facilities in disease avoidance and intervention. It is evident the increase participation and involvement of public health has greatly decreased prejudice. This is demonstrated in practices such as; immunization and increasing disease avoidance among others.

Disease avoidance and social rejection

In response to the risk of pathogenic infections, the human body has immune systems that destroy disease causing pathogens that gain entry into the body. Similarly, human beings have developed behavioral, immune systems. The behavioral immune system enables them to identify and circumvent pathogen entering the body (Park et al, 2007). Numerous communicable diseases have outward manifestation in the form of lesions, rashes and other physical abnormality. Consequently, humans correlate certain physical abnormalities with infectious disease and naturally react by embracing avoidant behavior.

This is to minimize risk of infection. Besides, the human mind has acquired behavioral adaptation to disease threats by having specialized sensitivity to disease signs such as disfigurement. Hence, people with disabilities and phenotypic anomalies face social rejection and discrimination (Ackerman et al., 2009). However, many authors note that physical disfigurement is not always an indication of contagious infection hence, disease avoidance mechanisms often lead to unnecessary stigma and false alarm (Park et al, 2007). According to Haselton & Nettle (2006) it is difficult to alleviate the social stigma associated with both contagious and non-contagious physical disability. Gangestad & Buss (1993) states that in regions of high pathogen prevalence, humans evolve by sexual selection; where humans are likely to select mates based on physical attractiveness as a measure of current health and pathogen resistance.

With advancement in medical technology, preventive measures against disease have been developed. Among other measures, immunization has been viewed as an effective means of protecting oneself against serious disease (Navarrete & Fessler, 2006). Thus, this explanation argues out that with public health intervention, through measures such as vaccination, disease avoidance can be averted. If disease threat is reduced by immunization, it is thought that the mental responses to disease avoidance would be suppressed.

Immunizing against anti-immigrant attitudes

To affirm the statement that prejudice caused by disease avoidance can be reduced by public health intervention, three studies were conducted. Huang et al (2011) examined psychological immunity brought about by public health interventions like immunization. He noted the perception of disease threat triggers behavioral avoidance and xenophobic attitudes towards immigrants who are thought to be carriers of disease. Similarly, disease avoidance mechanisms were noted as a norm stimulated by the violation of foreign out-groups leading to social rejection. Foreign out-groups violate norms either due to their lack of knowledge or lack of motivation to conform (Huang et al (2011). The study suggested that immunized individuals have a sense of protection against disease threat; consequently they reported less prejudice towards foreign out-groups. In addition, the study revealed that in disease threatened individuals, their perception of vaccine effectiveness had an impact on their reduced anti-immigrant prejudice.

Framing effects of prejudice

A second study was done to account for alternative explanations for the difference in anti-immigrant prejudice between immunized and un-immunized individual (Duncan et al., 2009). The study revealed that perception of protection from disease influence an individual’s prejudice towards out-groups and manipulates the perception of an individual to the effectiveness of a vaccine. The study had an ensuing effect on prejudice. The assessment considered the fact that people vary in intensity to which they perceive themselves vulnerable to disease. Duncan et al (2009) predicted that in the threat of disease, people who perceive themselves as being more vulnerable to getting infected were likely to be more prejudiced towards other groups.

Moreover, the study showed that in the case of a serious disease threat, the way vaccination is framed has an effect on the perception to disease vulnerability. Framing vaccination is contagious because individuals most alarmed about the disease infection are more prejudiced against out-groups. However, according to Borg et al (2008) framing vaccination as a protective initiative as it reduces aversion towards out-groups. Duncan et al ( 2009) results concurs with similar findings from other studies where increased perception to vulnerability of disease, results in amplified negative reactions to foreign out-groups associated with the disease risk.

Washing away prejudice

In the third study, the effect of hand-washing on perception of disease vulnerability and prejudice towards out-groups was observed. The study assessed the extent to which members of an out-group are associated with disease threat, as opposed to members of an in-group. Results of the study affirmed germ aversion through hand washing lead to diminished prejudice towards out-groups. Consequently, in individuals who did not wash their hands, disease aversion was associated with increased negative attitudes towards out-groups. In the health care, hand washing is a key contributor to disease avoidance, reducing morbidity and mortality rates (Curtis & Cairncross, 2003). These results from the study were consistent with results of previous work where hand washing not only removed dirt, but released past guilt in a person (Lee & Schwarz, 2010). In the study, the psychological impact of hand washing on past behaviors was seen as a likelihood of averting the extent of negative attitudes towards out-groups.


This paper explored how social exclusion evolved to protect us from diseases. It also discussed the role of public health facilities averting prejudice. The paper indicated that in the face of disease threat, immunization and vaccination of individuals significantly diminishes prejudice (Faulkner et al, 2004). Public health measures such as immunization and vaccination are critical in reducing the issue of prejudice. This is because they ensures a person is protected against unpredictable health condition.

Reference List

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Borg, J., Lieberman, D., & Kiehl, K. A. (2008). Infection, Incest, and Iniquity: Investigating the Neural Correlates of Disgust and Morality. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(9), 1529-1546.

Curtis, V., & Cairncross, S. (2003). Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhea risk in the community: a systematic review. Lancet Infectious Diseases, 3(5), 275.

Duncan, L. A., Schaller, M., & Park, J. H. (2009). Perceived vulnerability to disease: Development and validation of a 15-item self-report instrument. Personality & Individual Differences, 47(6), 541-546.

Faulkner, J., Schaller, M., Park, J. H., & Duncan, L. A. (2004). Evolved Disease- Avoidance Mechanisms and Contemporary Xenophobic Attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 7(4), 333-353.

Gangestad, S. W., & Buss, D. M. (1993). Pathogen prevalence and human mate preferences. Ethology & Sociobiology, 14(2), 89-96.

Haselton, M. G., & Nettle, D. (2006). The Paranoid Optimist: An Integrative Evolutionary Model of Cognitive Biases. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), 10(1), 47-66.

Huang, J. Y., Sedlovskaya, A., Ackerman, J. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2011). Immunizing against prejudice: Effects of disease protection on attitudes toward out-groups. Psychological Science, 22(12), 1550-1556.

Kurzban, R., & Leary, M. R. (2001). Evolutionary origins of stigmatization: The functions of social exclusion. Psychological Bulletin, 127(2), 187-208.

Navarrete, C., & Fessler, D. T. (2006). Disease avoidance and ethnocentrism: the effects of disease vulnerability and disgust sensitivity on intergroup attitudes. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(4), 270-282.

Park, J. H., Schaller, M., & Crandall, C. S. (2007). Pathogen-avoidance mechanisms and the stigmatization of obese people. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(6), 410-414.